Reflection on The Good Shepherd
Rev’d Julia Porter-Pryce
One of the earliest images of Jesus, found in ancient wall-paintings, is that of a rosy-faced, curly-haired shepherd boy. It was only when the state adopted the church that Jesus is depicted wearing the robes of a Byzantine emperor. The early Christian communities followed the example of this beautiful young man, whose care and tenderness for his flock knew no bounds – even that of life itself.
Passover lambs on hillsides must have surrounded Jesus and his disciples as they wandered the countryside of Galilee. Jesus would have had plenty of time to contemplate sheep. And he would have been as familiar with the words of Psalm 23 as were our own grandmothers. So why does he not speak of himself as the Good Shepherd earlier in the gospels? How is it that we only hear of the Good Shepherd after the resurrection?
The followers of Jesus, then as much as now, wondered what really happened to Jesus when he died. There are various explanations in the gospels. They were told that now all things are new, but it was hard to see. The gospel writers tell us that the Jesus of the resurrection, Jesus the Good Shepherd, Jesus the draegoman, not only goes ahead of us but also comes back to bring us to a place of rest and refreshment.
Resting places aren’t necessarily quiet. Neither are they a place to escape pain and troubles. On the contrary, they can be dark and difficult places. But whatever sorrow and turmoil there may be, they are also profoundly peaceful places, because God is always present.
If just for a few moments we can let go and allow our minds to wander, like sheep on the hillside, we may discover that we are being led back to a resting place, a space or a time where we felt blessed. And then it is simple to believe that God will grant our deepest desires.
As the psalmist sang: ‘You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over’.
Then it is simple to believe that surely God’s goodness will follow us all the days of my life and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
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